7 things to know about Julian Castro, the breakout star of the 2020 Democratic debates

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In the first round of the 2020 Democratic debates on June 26, 10 of the 24 candidates running for president faced off against each other. It was a crowded stage, and many of the contenders didn't distinguish themselves. But former San Antonio mayor Julián Castro seemed to emerge from the debate as the unofficial victor, as the politician shined with passionate, detailed answers to questions about immigration, abortion, and more.

Castro's performance on Wednesday night caught the eyes of many of viewers; according to Twitter's official data, he was the third most discussed candidate on the platform during the debate, behind Sen. Cory Booker and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Google, meanwhile, reports that searches of Castro's name rose by 2,400 % from the debate.

Despite not receiving too much attention prior to this week, Castro is now on everyone's minds. Here's everything to know about the 44-year-old candidate.

He's served under two presidents

Back in 1994, Castro worked in the Clinton White House as an intern, and he returned years later to serve as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Obama administration between 2014 and 2017. During that time, he oversaw the lowering of mortgages and introduced legislation that enacted the Fair Housing Act.

In a 2019 interview with The Breakfast Club, Castro shared that he was offered the role by Obama over the phone — while he was in line at a drive-thru Panda Express.

He was mayor of a major city

Before becoming HUD secretary, Castro served as San Antonio's mayor, where he earned national recognition for his urban development plans and focus on revitalizing the city's downtown area. Castro was elected mayor of San Antonio in 2009, and was re-elected twice before departing in 2014 to serve in Obama's cabinet.

He wants to reform immigration and keep abortion legal

Although Castro has previously been considered a moderate, he's running a fairly progressive presidential campaign. His policy proposals include reforming the immigration system and decriminalizing border crossings, reforming the education system to include access to quality education for all Americans, increasing access to affordable housing, and eliminating lead exposure in the United States.

Castro also supports gun reform measures like the gun buy-back program, background checks, and reinstating the ban on assault rifles. He has stated that he wants to raise the national minimum wage, and has spoken several times about economic justice, including issuing support for reparations to black Americans. During Wednesday night's debate, he also stated that he believes the access to reproductive care should be guaranteed to all people and should be free.

Castro has endorsed the Medicare for All plan, but during the debate, he was among several candidates who did not raise their hands when asked if they would completely eliminate private insurance.

He did say, though, that he would ensure that the Equal Rights Act was passed if he became president. "I would do several things, starting with something we should have done a long time ago, which is to pass the equal rights amendment finally in this country, and also, pursue legislation so that women are paid equal pay for equal work in this country," Castro said.

He's not afraid to get tough with his opponents

In one of the tensest moments of the debate, Castro took on Beto O'Rourke about their differences in immigration policy. In a heated exchange (Castro later admitted that he planned to confront O'Rourke) Castro challenged his opponent on the fact that he hasn't supported the repeal of Section 1325 of the Immigration Nationality Act, which would decriminalize border crossings and make it much safer for migrants to enter the United States.

"I think you should do your homework on this issue," Castro said to O'Rourke at one point, and the latter candidate struggled to respond.

He's serious about police reform

Castro's platform involves addressing police brutality and holding police accountable. When asked about economic justice during the debate, the candidate took the moment to name some of the black Americans killed by the police in the past decade, vowing to address the systemic problems that led to their deaths.

"I was in Charleston not too long ago, and I remembered that Dylann Roof went to the Mother Emanuel AME church, and he murdered nine people who were worshipping, and then he was apprehended by police without incident," Castro said. "Well, but what about Eric Garner and Tamir Rice and Laquan McDonald and Sandra Bland and Pamela Turner and Antonio Arce?"

“I’m proud that I’m the only candidate so far that has put forward legislation that would reform our policing system," Castro concluded.

He has a twin brother who's also in politics

Castro's twin brother, Rep. Joaquin Castro, represents Texas' 20th congressional district. He looks quite similar to Julián, and has also extended his support for his brother's presidential bid. Rep. Castro told ABC News before the debate that his twin "has a sense for what Americans care about, Democrats of course, but also folks that are more conservative."

The Castro brothers are third generation Mexican-Americans, the sons of a mother who was an activist and a father who was a math teacher. Their grandmother immigrated from Mexico to the U.S. in the 1920s, and both brothers say their her crossing has deeply informed their worldview.

He isn't accepting corporate donations

Like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Castro is not accepting any campaign donations from corporations or Super PACs. Instead, he's relying on donations from individuals. In January, just before he announced his run for president, he told NBC News that "the people are more powerful than the PAC." And following the debate Wednesday night, he doubled down on his stance of no corporate funding in a video posted to his Twitter account.

But a lack of funding is one of the things that might hurt Castro's campaign. Compared to the top candidates in the race, he has not raised a substantial amount of money; according to CNN, Castro raised just $1.1 million dollars in the first quarter of fundraising, compared to Sanders' $18 million.

However, according to Castro's campaign the number of donations to his campaign spiked by 2000% after his debate appearance, though official campaign donation numbers haven't been reported.

Speaking to CNN, Castro didn't play shy about his debate performance, telling Anderson Cooper: "A lot of people may not have been paying attention to my campaign before tonight. But they are now." And when Dan Rather tweeted out: "Who thought Julian Castro had a good night?" Castro quoted the tweet and simply wrote "Me."